Yesterday I took a day off from my duties as an AmeriCorps VISTA to join Ohio County teachers Jenny Craig, Jackie Shriner, and Erin Bowers. Visiting WV Senate and House representatives with Ohio County branch president of the West Virginia Education Association, Jenny Craig, allowed me to participate in several meaningful exchanges with WV Delegates and Senators.
First of all I want to thank Delegate Lisa Bixby Zukoff [D-district 04] for your hospitality! Thanks also to Cindy Lavender-Bowe [D-district 42], Margaret Staggers [D-district 32], and Danielle Walker [D-district 51] for graciously allowing us to use Room 230 as a place to rest during our 11-hour visit to the Capitol.
I’m also grateful to Delegate Erikka Storch [R-district 03] who met with us for coffee after 8 p.m. in the evening after her long day in sessions, committee meetings, and in dialog with other constituents.
I watched Senate proceedings in the morning and earl afternoon—disappointed to find that Bill 451 was brought up for its first round of votes with no discussion. Yesterday’s Committee of the Whole (a committee that contains every senator), which passed the Omnibus Education Bill with a vote of 18 to 16, was the fourth whole Senate as committee actions in the WV Senate’s history.
I tagged along with the Ohio County educator Jenny Craig as she initiated conversations with Delegates Joe Canestraro [D-district 04], Lisa Zukoff [D-district 04], Phil Diserio [D-district 02], Randy Swartzmiller [D-district 01], and Dave Pethtel [D-district 05]. We also met with West Virginia Senators William Ihlenfeld [D-district 01] and John Unger [D-district 16].
Taking a personal day to talk face to face with Delegates and Senators with small and larger groups of educators was a worthwhile investment for me. While I have consistently engaged in the democratic process by voting and contacting my state and federal representatives by email or telephone on issues of great concern to me, I have never before taken time to go to my representatives office in Charleston and share my views on specific bills or legislative policies. I can’t say that teacher concerns about Senate Bill 451 expressed to Senator Clements [R-district 02] and Delegate Storch changed their minds, but I can say that both representatives listened and engaged in meaningful dialog with us.
Having conversations with representatives and observing meetings in progress reminded me how grateful I am for the work that each of our legislative and organizational representatives do on our behalf. Especially for those who must live away from their families while the House and Senate are in session, their time service is a huge commitment.
At 5 p.m. a press conference was held in the Capitol Rotunda outside the Senate Chamber. Jenny Anderson, Director of Families Leading Change, organized this event. The speakers represented a variety of citizens, lawmakers, and children—each speaking for about three minutes about their views on West Virginia public schools and their reactions to Senate Bill 451. House Delegate Sammi Brown [D-district 65] energized the crowd with a rousing message. One of student presenters observed, “What is a Committee of the Whole anyway?” The press conference ended with an inspirational message from Nicole McCormick, a Mercer County music teacher and member of the WV United Caucus, who led the crowd in a unison singing of Country Roads.
Voters like you and me must continue to submit our comments on Senate Bill 451 as well as on other legislation being proposed and reviewed in the current legislative session. After my day at the Capitol, I want to try share my point of view with my representatives more frequently —especially on those issues of deep concern to my community and me. I encourage you to do the same.